Thirteen former students claim they were sexually abused by longtime Peabody gym teacher and coach James Toltz.

Lawyers for the alleged victims filed a class action lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court on Tuesday. They are also suing the city of Peabody for intentionally preventing disclosure of Toltz's abuse, which the lawsuit said spanned his decades-long career in education. Neither Toltz, who now lives in Winter Garden, Florida, nor city officials responded to requests for comment on the case.

Toltz worked as a physical education teacher at Higgins Middle School and the John F. Kennedy Junior High School between 1969 and 1996, according to the suit. During this time, he allegedly forced minors as young as age 11 to shower naked while he watched, and introduced adolescents to drugs and alcohol in school or at his home. The lawsuit described disturbing encounters with middle and high schoolers that involved spanking, forced oral sex, rape and assault.

“Being a gym teacher and a coach, he was in a unique position to have boys undressed, to have situations where it seemed to the boys maybe somewhat normal,” said Carmen L. Durso, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers. "I've had people tell me that he would create situations in which it would be necessary for him to make a general examination.”

During a Wednesday press conference on Zoom organized by the plaintiffs' lawyers, Durso and Michael J. Heineman, two unidentified men spoke about the abuse, as did the wife of another alleged victim.

“I feel partly responsible for this, wondering if there's more I could have done or should have done back then to get this predator off the street,” a man identified in the case as John Doe #1011 told reporters. “With this lawsuit, we have a chance to rectify. I have a chance to rectify my guilt and bring some level of justice and accountability in this situation.”

A man identified in the case as John Doe #1007 said he is now realizing how the abuse that occurred decades ago has impacted him.

“I've had self-destructive behavior. I've had exaggerated pain, deep shame, self-loathing and other issues for many decades. I rarely thought about this abuse, and I think I may not even have been aware of it,” he said. “When I hear someone sniffing, especially when it's cold, it brings back what he did to me. He was sniffing through his cocaine-encrusted nostril, and it's a sound I cannot escape.”

The wife of a man identified as John Doe #1008 read an emotional statement on behalf of her husband.

“I wish to reach out to another set of James Toltz's victims, his colleagues in the authorities of the City of Peabody. He stole your integrity,” the statement said. “You who at the time and for whatever your motivation, chose to turn a blind eye in the self preserving effort to deny moral culpability for his crimes that as a result, was allowed to span decades.”

The complaint estimated that as many as 150 other students may have been similarly abused by the former teacher.